Sunday, August 28, 2011

Serge Gainsbourg tribute, August 28 at the Hollywood Bowl

Serge Gainsbourg is a legend, at least in France or the part of the world that isn’t the U.S.  There have probably been a multitude of live tributes to him but probably not as big a deal as an event not only in the U.S. but on a summer night at the Hollywood Bowl.  Truth be told, I’m not a particular student of Gainsbourg -- most of what I know came from a documentary I saw in Austin a few years ago and a best-of disc (Comic Strip) that I got a while after that.  And of the package I got tickets for for that summer, I honestly thought it would be the least of the shows, more of a cultural event than a real concert, which it was, to an extent, but that didn’t mean that there wasn’t a thrilling exhibition of music and a once-in-a-lifetime performance of some beautiful, influential music by some amazing performers. The music was the focus, as it should be, but also impressive was the different worlds that were split by the incredible range of musicians there to interpret the music, showing how influential Gainsbourg was to so many different genres of music, over so much time, up to even today, and certainly beyond: Zola Jesus, who I really wasn’t into at the time and who I missed opening the XX show at the Palladium, but showed a wild side that would have fit in just fine coming down the tree starting from Gainsbourg; Sean Lennon, who makes me nervous just being within a mile of since his dad was, after all, John Fucking Lennon; Ed Droste, the guy from Grizzly Bear, who I didn’t know but apparently was big enough a deal to stand alongside the others; Victoria LeGrande, the chick from Beach House, whose greatest relevant attribute to being there might have been her French-sounding last name; and Mike Patton, who tied it all together, seemingly doing whatever songs he wanted, along with dueting with most of the other performers, especially the ladies.  Patton can write his own ticket wherever he wants, and the only thing more interesting than the fact that the guy who went crazy with Faith No More was there was that he fit in to this show so perfectly.  A singer doesn’t need much range to cover Gainsbourg’s classics, which had more talking than actually singing, so the extra room that Patton had in his interpretation of the music meant he could put his own spin on it, though he showed restraint by not going too heavy or too weird with it, really no heavier or weirder than Gainsbourg made it in the first place.  The whole thing was curated by Beck, a fact I didn’t known until we got there; I thought he was just another performer at the show.  Apparently Gainsbourg was a huge influence on Beck, which starts to make sense once you make the connection.  I always take Beck for granted, since he’s always been so ubiquitous not only to the culture I most relate to but also because of his preferred geography of L.A. (even though the most notable times I’ve seen him have been outside of L.A.)  Also present was Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a strange choice since he’s not known at all as a singer.  There really wasn't a lot of actual singing in Gainsbourg's music so a lot of it is about the presence.  And Gordon-Levitt had it.  He probably could have done more but, as appropriate for that night, he was pretty cool and didn't do much except "singing" and letting all the girls in the audience, of which there were many, apparently, scream at him.  He emulated the kind-of singing that Gainsbourg had in his music, and being a capable stage performer, Gordon-Levitt brought the slick confidence that Gainsbourg patented.  He actually fit in very well among the performers.  There was a big deal about Jean-Claude Vannier, the conductor who originally worked with Gainsbourg and conducting at the event, and while I’m not familiar with that artist and his story, I know it was a special thing to see him there.  As was the entire night, as might have been the case for more there than just me, that I may not have a direct relation to the cultural relevance of Gainsbourg as a legend, even one foreign to this country and culture, I could relax and enjoy the music and the evening for what they were and could be comfortable knowing that this experience could take me beyond where I was and what I knew about it before I went there.  This was also the night that the bottle of wine that Carla got for us dropped over the ledge by our feet and shattered, eliciting sympathetic sighs from those around us.  Oh well.  We didn’t need to drink to enjoy it.  It seems very un-French of us but we just let the music intoxicate us.

Serge Gainsbourg tribute set-list:

(A dump of the songs performed, though I don't remember the relevence within the context of the show, who performed which songs, or if the spaces between sets were particular to pauses in the performances.)
"L'eau a la Bouche"
"Couleur Café"
"La Noyée"
"Requiem Pour un Con"
"Chanson de Prévert"

"La Horse"
"Harley Davidson"
"Le Poinçonneur des Lilas"
"La Javanaise"
"Black Trombone"
"La Décadanse"
"Initials B.B."
"Le Chanson de Slogan"
"I Came Here To say"

"Comic Strip"
"L'homme A Tete De Chou"
"Bonnie & Clyde"
"Je t'aime... Moi Non Plus"
"Ford Mustang"
"Sea, Sex, and Sun"
"Teenie Weenie Boppie"
"Les Sucettes"

"Ballade de Melody Nelson"
"Valse de Melody"
"Ah! Melody"
"L'hôtel Particulier"
"En Melody"
"Cargo Culte"